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Eritrea’s faithful praying, fasting after closure of Catholic hospitals

The Bishops of Eritrea are urging the faithful to pray, following a government decision to close 22 Catholic-run hospitals.

By Devin Watkins

Seventeen days of fasting and prayer.

That’s what Eritrea’s Catholics are being asked to do in response to the government’s decision to nationalize all Church-run hospitals.

Archbishop Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam, of Asmara, announced the move in a letter dated 22 June.

In his letter, the Archbishop condemned the decision to close Catholic-run health facilities, saying “only the Lord can console us and resolve our problems”.

Bishops critical of regime

He said the decree came after Eritrea’s Bishops criticized the regime of Isaias Afwerki, the president since 1993.

In April, the Bishops released a pastoral letter requesting “a national reconciliation process to guarantee social justice” for all Eritreans.

The prayer initiative kicked off in churches and monasteries on 25 June and runs until 12 July, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Eastern Catholic Ge’ez rite, a part of the Alexandrian Rite native to Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Hospital closures

Earlier this month, Eritrea’s central government ordered all 22 Catholic-run hospitals to hand over ownership to the state.

Administrators refused to comply and referred government officials to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who also denied the request.

The Bishops say soldiers were seen intimidating hospital personnel and setting up surveillance on the religious communities that run the structures, according to Fides News Agency.

Rural areas worst-hit

The government promptly closed the health facilities, most of which are located in remote areas.

An un-enforced 1995 law provided the pretext for the closures. It decreed that all social institutions – including schools and clinics – were to be operated by the state.

The populations worst-hit by the closure of Catholic hospitals are also the country’s poorest, including the Afar people who live along Eritrea’s southern border with Ethiopia.

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26 June 2019, 13:12